Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Carlo Tresca's "Il Martello" first published today, December 14, 1917

An April 1920 cover of Il Martello,
published at 208 E. 12th Street
On this day, December 14, in 1917, the first issue of labor leader Carlo Tesca's Italian language newspaper, Il Martello, was published on the East Side.

Called "radical" and "subversive" by opponents, Il Martello faced tough government scrutiny for its anti-war, anti-establishment views and was deemed "unmailable" at the time by the U.S. Postal Service.

The newspaper, originally titled, Il Martello: Giornale politico, letterario ed artistico ("The Hammer: Political, Artictic and Literary Newspaper"), was founded in in November of 1916 by a man named Luigi Preziosi. Tresca purchased the magazine for a few hundred dollars in late 1917, soon after halting operations of his previous journal, L'Avvenire ("The Future") in August of that year.

Tresca purchased Il Martello -- but did not attach his name to it for over a year -- as a way to circumvent government censorship. By the time he acquired the newspaper, Tresca's involvement in national labor movements and progressive writings had caught the eye of authorities, who went as far as tapping his phone line.


Carlo Tresc
Tresca and L'Avvenire, like many foreign language publications of the WWI era, were targeted with the introduction of the Espionage Act -- which, for example, required a literal English translation of any war- or government- related content mailed in the United States. Those publications deemed uncooperative would minimally lose their postal permits and often have their offices raided, eventually driving them out of business.

According to Carlo Tresca: Portrait of a Rebel by Nunzio Pernicone,"Tresca's acquisition of Il Martello demonstrated his skill in the fine Italian art of arrangiarsi  -- to manipulate a situation for the best outcome."


Knowing he could never get the proper permits to publish in his name, Tresca essentially used Il Martello as a front to continue his mission; It was not until June of 1918 that his name appeared as publisher.

Il Martello moved into an office at 208 E. 12th Street by the Spring of 1920, and Tresca lived in an apartment above John's Italian restaurant at 302 E. 12th Street. Over the following twenty-three years, the publisher created a lot of enemies as an outspoken critic of Communism, Stalinism and  Benito Mussolini's attempt to organize fascist support on American soil. 

Ultimately, Tresca was assassinated on a Fifth Avenue sidewalk on January 11, 1943. His murder remains unsolved though several theories have circulated since the incident. One leading theory hints at Mafia involvement -- more specifically, Bonanno underboss Frank Garafolo, who at the time operated a Cheese import shop at 176 Avenue A, according to Manhattan Mafia Guide by Eric Ferrara.

As the legend goes, Tresca publicly offended Garafolo at a dinner event on September 10, 1942 and ordered a young Carmine Galante to commit the murder. Another theory surrounding the incident involves Sicilian assassins, and yet another implicates Joseph Stalin's secret police.